If you want to know how to love people, first things first—listen to them deeply. Ask about their lives, what their hopes and dreams are, what it costs them to live as they live. Ask about their faith, if they have any. And when you have a real sense of the person before you, then here’s the second thing to do—share your story, your pain, your hopes and dreams, share what your God means to you. Listening without judgment or advice-giving is a clear statement of love.
To deeply listen to another means that s/he is seen and acknowledged. It means that they matter to you, because you’ve taken the time and spent it on them. I know from my work as a spiritual director that listening is the great skill of love. I sit with a directee listening to the deepest, most closely held part of him or herself. Just to listen and to reflect back what I have heard means that the other person can relax about who they are, because the director holds the directee’s life as holy which they then examine together and mine for its riches.
Love is the great change agent in the universe and listening is its number #1 skill. Isn’t that what we’re asking of God in prayer—to listen to us and to acknowledge our pain, to help us out of our depths. God is the great listener for us, the one who acknowledges and holds us and our pain. He is also the great transformer of our human guilts and shame and sorrow into love.
There is an initiative available in our country called StoryCorps in which any two people who would like to a have a real conversation sit in a booth and record their talk. It might be a 10 year old autistic boy asking his mother if she’s disappointed in who he is, or a mother of a GI killed in Afghanistan talking to the last person with him when he died. A mother hugging the man who killed her son years before. Two people talking about their favorite teacher. Storycorp.org is the site where you can listen to these recordings. They are being archived at the Library of Congress.
Again StoryCorps is about listening and being present, about having a thoughtful conversation. It is a powerful tool emboldening each participant to ask the questions that they need to know about the other. In a country as fractured as ours today, I thought, “Wow! here at least people are real. Here they have time for one another.”
We are in such a hurry today, too exhausted really to take the time to be with another. We’re out to dinner as a couple and yet both of us are on the phone to another. Our children think they must be boring because their parents are more interested in wi-fi or their phones than their children. We’re working extreme hours without any sense that we’re beyond being tired. We are seldom present to what we’re doing, to whom we are with, preferring instead to buy into the culture’s emphasis on material gains as our standard rallying point about life and forgetting the simple, simple pleasures like being present to another. Holding on to our phones and giving them first place in our lives means that we can be distracted from anything that takes energy like relationships.
I was telling some folks the other day about my grandparents on my father’s side who lived in Pueblo, Colorado. He was a beekeeper and handyman. He and my father built the house that they lived in. She raised chickens and grew all their fruits and vegetables in a 1/8th acre plot. They had no money and yet their lives had a richness in its simplicity.
We, on the other hand, race from thing to thing, eating out often or not eating together as a family. We have many more material things and yet are we relaxed, fulfilled and yet as dedicated as my grandparents were? Are we at peace with who we are? Are we able to love our lives as they are? Or are we on the treadmill, just one more rat in the race? And the race to where?
To return to listening: it takes time to get to know someone well, to trust them enough to share who we are. It takes peace and love, patience and the ability to take joy in someone else. It takes goodness and kindness and gentleness and self-control, the ability to put another’s needs ahead of our own, at least for a time.[Fruit of the Spirit, see the citation below] It takes being faithful to Jesus’ Two Great Commandments to love God with all of ourselves and to love ourselves and others. When Paul wrote about the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5, he was defining love, for love to be present it takes all of the fruit of the spirit.[Galatians 5:22-23] To some extent we can acquire some of these traits by working to incorporate them into how we are, but really they are the end-product, the gift, of a deep relationship with Christ, a gift given once we have achieved a lot of depth in him, given that we might use them to advance the kingdom here on earth.
And what is the payback for showering our love and attention on another? It is a feeling of great privilege to know another person at such depth and intimacy, a feeling of joy to be a part of his/her life, a deep peace from plumbing the depths of another’s soul. To know someone is to love him/her. And there is God, for when you are fully present to another, God is there in the mix, present to you both. God is love. God is presence. God is everything, everywhere.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I available to other people in my family or to those I encounter? Do I listen, really listen deeply to them or am I distracted, distanced from them? Do I brush off their concerns? Do I see the people who are before me? Do I see their body language, their pain and joys in what they say? Do I register who they are and how they are right now?
Do I listen to what I am saying, how I am coming across? Am I aware of my state of being and how it affects others? Am I integrated with my deepest self, my soul? Am I expressing my soul wherever I am, whomever I am with?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who can love as he loves. May we receive God’s love as he sends it to us in the form of blessings and grace. May we then pour it back out on the world and all its peoples. May we be the one church of Christ, the kingdom here on Earth.
If you’d like to see more of By the Waters, check these out:
–There’s a new video up on YouTube: “What Jesus said about the kingdom” ”youtube.com/user/patsadams
–Check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams
–Check out the “Shop Now” at the top of this page which links to a CD of guided meditations and a series of booklets on the Life of the Spirit.
If you’d like to read the blog in its entirety, go to bythewaters.net/blog.html. On FB I post a portion of the blog each Monday thru Thursday. On Friday I post questions to ponder over the weekend based on that week’s topic.